Beverly Cleary’s works have earned countless awards and attracted generations of fans. However, few are aware that when Cleary was a child, she disliked reading, and struggled with it early in grammar school. But this little girl who hated reading grew to become one of the most critically acclaimed and adored authors of our time. On April 12, 1912, Beverly Bunn was born in McMinnville in Yamhill County, Oregon—a town so small it had no library. Her family moved to Portland, Oregon, where Beverly attended grammar school and high school. She was placed in the “blackbird” reading group, the lower circle of readers in her class. A combination of a kinder teacher, better health and a little extra help from her mother helped Beverly move out of the “blackbird” group in the second grade. While she had become sufficient at reading, Beverly never excelled. She rarely read outside of the classroom because she found children’s literature to be dull.
When Beverly was in the third grade, she by chance decided to pick up a book entitled The Dutch Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins to look at the pictures. Beverly was mesmerized by a story that stretched beyond the usual folktales. She not only finished that book in one day, she also read its sequel, The Swiss Twins, in the same day. That year, Beverly developed a passion for reading, spending most of her time either reading books or walking to and from the library.
In 1934, Beverly left home and moved south to attend college. After graduating from a junior college in Ontario, California, and the University of California-Berkeley, she went on to attend the School of Librarianship at the University of Washington-Seattle, where she specialized in library work with children.
Working in the library brought Beverly in touch with children from all walks of life, but it was the children who built scooters out of apple boxes and roller skates that truly inspired her. These children sparked her to write her first book in 1950 about a boy named Henry Huggins who lived on Klickitat Street, a real street in Portland close to where Beverly grew up. Her manuscript for Henry Huggins was accepted by the very first publisher she sent it to—a rare occurrence in the world of literature.
Soon after she had finished her Henry Huggins series, Cleary felt attracted to a smaller character in the series, Ramona Quimby; she ultimately penned a series revolving around the imaginative little girl. A couple of years later, Cleary witnessed her son racing a miniature toy motorcycle along the stripes on his bedspread, creating his own fantasy world. This vision inspired her to write The Mouse and the Motorcycle series about Ralph the mouse. Other books were written with suggestions from her young readers. Cleary later wrote two autobiographies: A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet.
Beverly worked as a librarian in Yakima, Washington until she married Clarence Cleary and moved back to California. The Clearys have two children and still reside in California. Beverly Cleary now enjoys traveling and needlework.
~by Leslie Rivers, First Stage Intern